Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 06/11/08

Unplayable at any speed.

The Space Quest series never lived to a true completion. Space Quest 6 left fans hanging; it wasn’t the well-polished game it was intended to be, and it ended with the biggest “to be continued” since Space Quest II. Fans waited for more. Plans were laid for Space Quest VII, but it seems the game was never meant to be. You can read about the whole sad story elsewhere, but the short version is that Space Quest VII was cancelled, along with any hope of reviving the series in the indefinite future. There would be no more Space Quest sequels. After being shot, eaten, and blown up a few hundred times, it seemed as though Roger Wilco was finally, permanently dead.

Then again, if adventure games have taught us anything, it’s that there’s usually a solution to even the most impossible problems. Fans didn’t need to wait for Sierra or anyone else to make another Space Quest game. They could make it themselves. Thus, Space Quest: The Lost Chapter was born.

SQ:TLC (as I shall refer to it) was released in its final form in 2001. Aside from the game engine, practically everything was designed by one person. The game is very similar to Space Quests I and II in terms of the graphics, sound, humor, and the fact that the game uses a text parser interface. The biggest difference is that it’s exceedingly difficult to play and enjoy.

You reprise your role as intergalactic janitor and accidental hero, Roger Wilco. Though Space Quest II ends with you floating through space in an escape pod, and Space Quest III begins with your escape pod being picked up by a robot garbage freighter, SQ:TLC would have you believe that there was actually another adventure sandwiched in-between that not only maintains the continuity between the two games but actually improves it, clearing up a few mysteries about Roger’s hair color and such. As the game begins, your escape pod crash-lands on an unknown planet, and you must explore the nearby jungle and mammoth swamp (that is, mammoth-sized, not filled with mammoths) to determine exactly how you’re going to end up back in space and headed toward Space Quest III.

So you wake up and exit the escape pod and find yourself in a jungle that looks suspiciously like the one from Space Quest II. Actually, it is the jungle from Space Quest II, at least in part: several objects, characters, and locations in SQ:TLC are ripped directly from other Space Quest games (most notably I and II) and altered only slightly. It feels as though the designer was just being lazy (which he actually admits to on his website). Most of the graphics that aren't “borrowed” usually range from unimpressive to dreadfully bland. Granted, 16 colors isn’t a lot to work with, but there are too many screens where the most prominent feature is a big wall or floor of one solid color with hardly any decorations or objects to break up the monotony.

The worst offender in the graphics department is Roger Wilco himself; he's all wrong. He looks like his chest has been inflated most of the time, except in a few of the screens where he’s presented a little larger than usual and looks like a cross between Captain Kirk and Superman, in which case his chest looks to be super-inflated. This is not the awkward, or even totally average, Roger Wilco presented in every other Space Quest (except for SQV, where he’s supposed to look more like a comic book hero).

…But I digress. So you wake up and exit the escape pod and find yourself in a jungle that looks suspiciously like the one from Space Quest II. As was the case in that game, you must explore the planet to find a way off, eventually learning what the story is really about. The main plotline is very decent, and it’s more creative than those of some of the other Space Quest games. The problem is that the plot is almost entirely administered through cutscenes (consisting mostly of talking heads in front of uninspired backgrounds), so the game alternates between short periods of beating you over the head with plot and long periods of aimless or near-aimless wandering.

You start out with no idea of what to do or where to go, you have a huge section of the planet to explore, and far too many screens have absolutely nothing of value on them (just padding to superficially extend the gameplay time and make the game seem bigger than it really is). It's easy enough to crank up the game speed to quickly get you through the boring areas, but there are dangers lurking around most corners, so it's a hassle to continually toggle the game speed back and forth to avoid trouble or to reload if you took a wrong turn. Even when slipping across areas faster than a clumsy janitor on a freshly mopped floor, getting from one place to another generally feels like it takes too long, perhaps because you watch the screens fly by and realize how much wasted space there is.

The first half of the game is nothing more than a planetwide scavenger hunt that takes you through a jungle, a rocky area, and an inexcusably large swamp on a search for anything you can fit in your pockets. The second half of the game takes you on a similar scavenger hunt through a spaceship with twelve decks that essentially look the same, so by the time you pick up a new item, you’ll have completely forgotten how to get back to where you need to use it.

By the end of the first half of the game, you have roughly twenty items in your inventory, increasing to about thirty near the end of the second half. Space Quests I-V respectively offer 18, 18, 18, 15, and 22 items throughout the course of the entire game. The majority of these are either in your inventory for a limited time or have a reasonably clear purpose from the beginning, and all but a select few items are useful somewhere. This is not so in SQ:TLC. None of the eight items carried over from SQII are ever used (with the arguable exception of the translator); they should have been left in the escape pod. Eight items is already an average number for a typical Space Quest inventory, and you are constantly adding to it. Making things worse, unlike with the other Space Quest games, you can’t get more information about your items from your inventory screen; you need to type LOOK GREEN CODE CARD, etc. individually for each item. Too many useless items and simply too many items make for a very cluttered inventory screen and a very difficult time solving some of the puzzles.

Inventory-based or not, solving puzzles is a pain. Part of this is due to the fact that SQ:TLC’s text parser is the worst I’ve ever seen, bar none. There are huge holes in the parser’s vocabulary, leaving you struggling to figure out what the very basic scenery around you is, and why you can’t interact with it. There are walls, floors, bushes, and water galore, and very rarely does the computer recognize the words WALL, FLOOR, BUSH, and WATER. There’s a plaque with writing on it in one room, but you can’t READ it; you can only LOOK at it. There’s a damaged data cartridge on the floor in another room that you can LOOK at just fine, but if you try to TAKE DATA CARTRIDGE, the computer tells you, “You can’t get that here!” Oh, and get used to typing long, alien words, because after you order something such as a TORMEENIAN SPECIAL at the bar, you’ll have to refer to it as such every time you want to use it because the computer has no idea what a BLUE DRINK or RED DRINK are.

There are several puzzles where you’ll get the right idea about the solution, only to find that the responses to the commands you enter don’t give you any hints about whether you’re on the right track, leaving you to give up and assume that your solution was wrong. There’s one room featuring an important-looking machine in the corner with a big glass surface that just screams, “use me!” Typing LOOK MACHINE confirms that, yes, there are machines in this room. Typing LOOK GLASS is of no use; even with all the glass windows, domes, and computer screens, the computer doesn’t recognize the word GLASS. Talking to the alien who is operating the machine gives a totally unhelpful “I’m busy; leave me alone” type of message. So far, it looks like this is yet another room that was only included to waste your time. What you should do is interact with the alien using a command that is used a few times in SQ:TLC but would be unlikely to discover while typing random commands to see what works; he then mentions the name of the machine, and then you LOOK at the machine, which you call by name, to learn the name of the glass surface you wanted to use in the first place. Instead, assuming this alien is like the others you’ve encountered so far who ignore you or try to kill you when you talk to them, you give up and go somewhere else.

The commands you have to keep typing and the recurring puzzles you must solve are okay at first but become tedious after a while. Wander around the big ship and fetch items. Wait around to trigger an event. Talk to this alien. Talk to that alien. Look at the panel. Push the green button. Push the red button. You will have so many panels to look at and so many aliens to talk to that you’ll want to take your laser gun and shoot every last one the next time the computer tells you that the alien doesn’t want to talk or that you have no idea how to operate this panel. However, some of them are critical to solving puzzles, so you’ll have to interact with all of them to be totally sure you’re not missing anything.

Then there is what is probably the WORST puzzle in adventure game history. In one section of the massive swamp there is a squid that takes up just about the entire screen. Unless you enter the screen at exactly the right spot, you will be immediately caught by its tentacles and killed. Because there is nothing of interest here aside from the bones of its victims, it follows logically that this is just a screen that is meant to kill you if you accidentally enter it. But no, you need one of the bones that is at the opposite end of the screen. And, you need it for a fairly obtuse puzzle that really should be solvable using one or two other items you have. Anyhow, to get the bone, you must navigate through the mess of tentacles. If you touch any part of the tentacles, you die. Half of the time you are swimming behind a tentacle and cannot see yourself, and there is a very narrow and unmarked path only a few pixels high that you can traverse safely, so the whole thing is mostly guesswork. Changing directions completely changes your orientation, so you might swim down, suddenly hit a tentacle with your feet, and die. And then you get to the end of the maze, find a way to skillfully swim down to collect your bone… and then do the whole thing in reverse. And probably get stuck in a dead-end along the way. The root maze in Space Quest II is awful, but very possible if you just have the patience for it. This, though… This is cruel, unfair, and unspeakably frustrating even on the slowest speed, and the best walkthroughs on the web don’t make it that much easier. The impossibility of this puzzle is unjustifiable.

What can I say? Space Quest: The Lost Chapter isn’t fun. Perhaps it’s because I started to rely heavily on a walkthrough after I got sick of constantly walking and swimming (oh… too much swimming) through countless screens with nothing of value in them in search of whatever random junk I could fill my pockets with, typing ineffective commands that would have been accepted by any other text parser, and sifting through my unnecessarily ponderous inventory. There are a handful of puzzles and nice backgrounds that give a few moments of true enjoyment, but they don’t last.

To its credit, the game does a pretty good job of capturing the humor of the Space Quest series. As is to be expected, the death messages bring out some of the best humor in the game: you can explode in a teleporter malfunction; be devoured by ravenous clams; and fatally, uh, puncture yourself by attempting to ride a horq, which is something like a cross between a horse and a stegosaurus. Oh, and don’t forget all the tentacles. Parodies and sight gags are almost nonexistent, but there are a few references to other Space Quest games throughout and a bunch of references to various things such as Star Trek and the Space Quest fan community. Some of the jokes get recycled, but the game is funny more often than not.

For example, you are presented with the following message after pushing a mysterious button for a second time: “You press the button again, just to make sure you pressed it. But now you wonder if you havent pressed it too much. I wonder how long you can press your luck. I’m still amazed you survived this long.” The humor is of good quality, but if you look a little closer at that quote, you’ll see that the editing quality is not as good (though this was one of the least flagrant errors). I recognize that this is a one-man, fan-made effort, but there were more grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors than inventory items in the game, and that’s saying something. This might not bother some people, but coupled with the often-lazy graphics, it makes the game feel very unprofessional.

Giving SQ:TLC a final score is difficult. On the one hand, the laughs are frequent, it is quite creative at times, the story is pretty good, and the continuity it creates between SQII and SQIII is wonderfully clever. On the other hand, there are a few minor bugs (too minor to have mentioned and possibly due to an error I made in configuring the game), there's too much repetition, the graphics are riddled with problems and are often unprofessional, the text needs some serious editing, the entire inventory situation is a disaster, the game suffers from being too big with too many unimportant screens, the text parser is atrocious, so many of the puzzles are obtuse, and the squid maze is enough to make you want to ride a horq.

Ultimately, Space Quest: The Lost Chapter is a game that would have been better off as one big cutscene, or else it should have undergone way more playtesting before its final release. If you’re a ravenous fan and absolutely need more Space Quest, give this game your best effort, and don’t hesitate to use a walkthrough or download saved games to get you through the most irritating sections. Otherwise, just walk away. The humor and the story make it almost bearable, but there is simply too much wrong with the entire game to even consider recommending it to anyone but the most rabid of Space Quest fanatics.

Rating: 2

Product Release: Space Quest: The Lost Chapter (US, 12/31/00)

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